Yep, it’s finally here. The Playstation 4 will be released on Friday, November 15th. matt and I will each be getting one, choosing Sony’s box over the Xbox One and Wii U. We’ve put the lines in the sand for our next gen choice, and over the coming weeks, months, and years, we’ll get to see  how this choice plays out.

A word of advice: Don’t make the mistake of picking fights based on the console you choose to support with your hard earned dollars. Lots of people will feel the need to defend their choice at the expense of the other consoles. If you love video games and the industry, no matter what games or systems you play on, you’re going to love the next generation.

Friday, 11:06 am – Gavin

…Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, Fable 2, Infamous, Skyward Sword, Red Dead Redemption, and of course the PC-inclusives, Portal 1 and 2, Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Spec Ops: The Line, etc.  It was a fabulous generation, buoyed by technological advances, new distribution models, and fantastic developers.  We’ll be fortunate if that kind of development continues into the next generation.  And why wouldn’t it?  We see a tremendous dichotomy between huge-budget highly-polished slick AAA titles like GTA V or Splinter Cell: Blacklist and low-tech small-team projects like Sound Shapes, FTL, Spelunky, Braid, VVVVVV, etc.  There will always be a space for all kinds of developers, even if it means that the top-selling spots are mostly reserved for the big players.

I’ve been off for the week, and I’ve spent this week doing nothing but catching up.  So far this week, I’ve done the following:

  • Beaten Mirror’s Edge
  • Started and beaten Splinter Cell: Conviction
  • Started and beaten The Walking Dead
  • Started Call of Duty: Ghosts.  I’m not going to talk about this one.  It’s exactly what you’d think a Call of Duty game is like.  Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ve spoken about Mirror’s Edge on the site and on the podcast, very favourably.  The design of this game is top-notch and the game play elements are ones that I hope we see going forward – platforming in the first person perspective can be accomplished, but it’s no small feat; your game effectively has to be designed around it.  The game ramped up the stress factor quite heavily with the introduction of enemies with effectively the same skills as you, leading to some fairly thrilling chases – I always wanted to turn around and see how far ahead of them I was, but I knew that doing so meant I’d be killed pretty quickly, or at least forced into combat where I’m at a disadvantage.  I did discover one flaw in the game’s balance – you can effectively get away with combat quite easily if you pick off your enemies appropriately, or run straight past them.  As such, you miss out on one of the game’s (eventually) principle maneuvers – disarming your enemy.  You are only actually required to do this twice in the game, and the amount of time between the two of them is significant.  I completely forgot how to perform this maneuver, so I spent a lot of time dying against Ropeburn and against the mystery runner at the harbour.

My biggest complaint about the game, aside from the length (it was a AAA title and I finished the campaign in about six and a half hours), was the ending; the game ends fairly abruptly, where The Big Reveal and you defeating the enemy occur within about fifteen seconds.  For a game that was paced quite well to this point, it was very disappointing.  I appreciate when games don’t outstay their welcome (Portal 1); when they do, it’s very noticeable (the boat sequence in Half-Life 2).  Mirror’s Edge could have been about half an hour longer and I would have completely appreciated that.  You don’t have time to bring your adrenaline levels down properly – the sequence leading up to the final battle is very stressful as it requires a fairly advanced degree of platforming and combat mixed together.  It was ultimately disappointing, but that does not detract from the fact that the design of the game is still top-shelf.  You receive appropriate visual cues for your platforming.  If it’s too much help, just set your difficulty higher, and the cues are turned off.  I found that there was only one sequence where I couldn’t tell where I actually needed to go, and one sequence where I could see where I needed to go, but couldn’t tell how to actually get there (after watching a video of it, it was painfully obvious).  Highly recommended, just don’t expect a grand finale.

Being a big fan of the Splinter Cell series (I’ve now played five of the six to this date, and beaten four of them – couldn’t beat Pandora Tomorrow), I was excited to get into Conviction.  I knew that it was a different style of game compared to the earlier ones, but I still wanted to give it a go – it was a requirement before I jumped into Blacklist.  So, I’ll break it down into the positives  and negatives.  As always, negatives first:

  • It is a shorter game compared to the others; I beat it in about eight and a half hours.  By comparison, it took me almost 18 hours to beat Double Agent.  Yes, I restarted a lot in that game, but still, even take away four hours and you’re still got a considerably longer game.
  • The game takes the position that you killed Irving Lambert at the end of Double Agent, which I did not do.  It was damn hard not to do it, but dammit, I saved him, and the story for this game just crapped all over that.
  • It doesn’t “feel” stealthy.  This is perhaps the biggest complaint I can levy against this game.  It’s fast.  You move quickly.  I played this on PC, and I couldn’t get the Xbox 360 controller to work (this is a known issue for the game), so I had to M+K it, and Sam has two speeds: turtle and cheetah.  It’s intensely frustrating compared to the first SC game on PC, where the mousewheel was used to adjust your speed, not your gadgets.  You had control over about 8 levels of speed, not 2.
  • Further to the above point, Conviction doesn’t punish you for action the way the others did.  There’s no disincentive for straight-up killing everyone, except for about one half of one mission, where you have to move through a crowd, picking off those tailing you, and one quarter of one mission where you can’t set off an alarm while breaking into a building.  As such, the game effectively condones you approaching it as a standard cover-based shooter.  There’s an upgrade system to the weapons found diagetically, which makes it feel very gamy.  There are some nonlethal options, like EMP grenades and smoke bombs, but it’s like a self-imposed challenge to use them.  You aren’t rewarded for them beyond points for your upgrade system, and it’s incredibly easy to gain points anyway.  Killing carried more weight in the previous games.  Sam was whoever you wanted him to be in the first ones, but you felt like your actions actually mattered.  In Conviction, it just feels like you’re taking control of a typical video gameish godless killing machine.  If you don’t kill someone, it’s not because you are choosing the stealthy option; it’s because you are suppressing your lust for blood.
  • You can’t control whether your hand-to-hand takedowns are lethal or nonlethal, and you can’t move the bodies of your incapacitated foes.  This represented, in my mind, the biggest shift from the previous Splinter Cell titles.  I used to slowly incapacitate my enemies and move them to a safe spot where they wouldn’t be seen.  Now, when I approach them and initiate a hand-to-hand takedown, Sam shoots them in the back of the neck.  It’s a bit brutal for what Sam Fisher supposedly represents.  I know that it fits with the tone of the story, but nonetheless, I didn’t like it.
  • Also, no door codes and no mini-puzzles for opening doors/safes/computers/etc.  It’s been made quite simple, unfortunately.

I know that sounds like a lot of complaints, and it is, but that’s because, as always, I measure every stealth game up against the best in the business, Chaos Theory.  Conviction is simply a different type of game, so I should be fair to it.  However, that said, do not even remotely take away from this that Conviction is a bad game.  It isn’t a bad game by any possible metric; it just doesn’t fit with the flow of the previous series.  And further to that point, there is a lot that I will say very positively about this game:

  • The writing and dialogue is easily the best in the series.  Sam sounds surprisingly human, culminating in the scene where he teleconferences Grimm in the Third Echelon headquarters, and his interactions with Grimm and Kobin are exceptional.  By extension, the voice acting is the best in the series so far.  Ironside knocks it out of the park, as he always does, and Elias Toufexis as Kobin is a treat when he’s on screen.  Even the less-intense conversations feel natural, which is the most positive thing I can say about voice acting.  With great writing comes, for once, a semi-coherent story.  You’re not often guessing what you’re doing or what your motivations are, which is a good thing in that the writing is clear (as opposed to, say, writing a script where the main character is intentionally supposed to be confused)
  • The presentation is exceptional.  Sam’s interactions with the environment are fantastic, and overlaying the objectives onto the textures in the game looks great, if a bit gimmicky.

I know the list is shorter on the positives, but it’s still an enjoyable game.

And then, on to The Walking Dead.  I could write a novel on this, but I’ll spare everyone.  Perhaps it’s because of where my wife and I are in our lives, but TWD hit on such a perfect emotional chord that I devoured it nonstop.  My parental urges kicked in the moment we saw Clementine on screen and I craved every possible interaction between her and Lee.  This game plucks your heart strings better than almost any game I’ve played before, with the possible exception of To The Moon.  It takes risks, it kicks you in the gut, and it fills you with regret for every decision you made that led you to where you are now, and it does it impeccably.  TWD is a triumph of writing and narrative design, buoyed by phenomenal voice acting and a semi-stylized graphical approach that lends itself well to facial expression.

I’m an avid listener of Idle Thumbs, where two of the podcasters (Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin) are also the two lead designers for TWD.  Vanaman once stated that he didn’t want players to go back and explore every possible conversation tree because that’s not how the game is meant to be played.  I tried to adhere to that as best as possible; I will admit that I did reload once or twice, but that’s because the conversation option I selected didn’t represent what I thought it would.  I suppose that’s my biggest complaint – choices that appear sympathetic, positive, or nonthreatening are delivered by Lee as angry, threatening, or dismissive.  I know it’s hard to get across your actual intent without being explicit and saying “THIS IS THE GOOD OPTION” (similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution), but it did frustrate me a couple of times.  But I suppose that unless you put all of the dialogue immediately in that option, it’s difficult to be 100% representative, especially when your option is time-sensitive.

I ended up trying to ride the fence and please everybody, because that’s probably what I’d do in real life – I stink at making tough decisions, where the outcome is guaranteed to hurt someone.  Doing so angered some of the characters, which is exactly what it would do in real life.  I ended up pissing off poor Kenny so many times, even though sympathizing with him would have put me in the bad books with others who didn’t deserve it.  Every one of the options that sided with Kenny (with the exception of getting into the pharmacy) was one that I didn’t want to explore, and that absolutely wrecked me in the fifth chapter.

The cinematography is phenomenal, it’s tense and stressful and extremely emotional.  This game has summarily skyrocketed up my list of best games of 2012.  I’m not certain if it could overtake Spec Ops: The Line, but if it’s in second place, it’s within a hair’s width of it.  If this game doesn’t resonate powerfully with you on some note, then I question the existence of your heart.

Thursday, 12:10 pm – matt

We are less than 24 hours from the launch of the PS4. I couldn’t help but think with the ushering in of the new generation, it might be good to take some time to discuss the games that we played in the previous gen. Last night I took advantage of an Xbox promotion to keep my 360 still Live (at less than 3$ a month) for NBA broadcasts and of course, GTA, but other than that I think my time is pretty much set going forward. I think we made the right choice going from Xbox 360 to PS4 rather than continuing with same company because Microsoft and Sony will still have titles being released for last gen and this way we can capitalize on the best of both worlds.

The PS3, Xbox 360, and of course Wii all gave us some amazing games – Metal Gear Solid 4, GTA 4 & 5, Halo’s, Last of us, C.O.D, Gears of Wars, Twilight Princess, Okami, Fallout 3. I think the rest of the crew can chip in a few titles im missing…

Wednesday, 2:42 pm – Gavin

I’m on holiday this week, and I will write something good tomorrow.  But I’ve been gaming my eyeballs out and it’s been beautiful.  If you haven’t played The Walking Dead, get on that right away.  So much emotion in such a short period of time.  The characterization, while exaggerated, is incredible, and the voice acting, which is amongst my usual complaints in video games, is terrific.  I have a few notes of concern, but I’ll document them fully.

GET ON IT.

Tuesday, 10:39 – Ricky

It’s Podcast time! Round 24 – We’re back, like turtles in a half shell (where we chat about a couple things after our 4 month hiatus) – Get the podcast details here.

Tuesday, 10:25 am – matt

Here! Here! my PS4 brother in arms! I didn’t take part in the previous generation launch but did end up purchasing each respective console at some point during the 8 year or so span. While there aren’t a crazy amount of games that scream out to me (launch titles never really do) Im more excited by knowing this awesome train going to be riding down the track for another number of years. Im really happy about the price (especially considering we pitched in for Ricky’s system) and Im happy with PS4 “build your own” system than Xbox forcing me into a Kinect unit I don’t want.

I was really excited about Need for Speed Rivals, but in typical fashion I avoid all media about the game until last night and I saw it is some high speed cops and robbers shit, not a traditional racer. hmm. One title that looks aimed towards a slightly younger audience ‘Knack’ looks like it COULD be neat, but I was at least able to grab Battlefield 4, so let the mayhem begin!

Im also jacked to see Ricky and have an old school Montreal game session. I just gotta find a honey bear jar.

Tuesday, 9:34 am – Ricky

Only a few days away from the PS4 launch, and we’re finally starting to get a look at the games and system UI. It seems like the media has their hands on the system, and they’re unveiling stuff steadily over the next few days. What else is there to say? I’m officially pumped up.

Monday, 8:37 am – Ricky

We had a pretty exciting weekend up here in Canadaland! Our local big-box tech stores, Future Shop and Best Buy, were giving away (!!!) copies of Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag for Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii U. All you had to do was trade them a copy of any current generation game – literally, any game. I gave up my PS3 copies of FIFA 11 and Darksiders for PS3 copies of Ghosts and Battlefield 4. I’m planning to do the $10 upgrade program offered by Sony to start off my PS4 library next week!

Oh, we also recorded a podcast, our first in almost 4 months. That’ll be up on Tuesday this week, so prep your earholes.

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